Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan
Dear Prosecutor General,
Please accept my greetings on behalf of Human Rights Watch.
We are writing to express our profound concern regarding dubious new criminal charges brought against Eynulla Fatullayev, founder of the newspapers Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan for alleged possession of drugs. We ask you to ensure a fully independent investigation to determine whether these charges have been brought for political reasons, based on fabricated evidence.
As you may know, Fatullayev was initially convicted for libel in April 2007 in relation to an internet posting attributed to him but which he claims he did not write. Later in 2007, he was also sentenced for fomenting terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and other criminal charges deriving from an article he wrote expressing legitimate opinion on Azerbaijan's foreign policy.
On December 29, 2009, guards at Correctional Colony Number 12 allegedly found narcotics in Fatullayev's shoes and coat during a search of his cell. On December 31, 2009, Fatullayev was charged under article 234.1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan (illegal purchase or storage, without intent to sell of narcotics or psychotropic substances in a quantity exceeding necessary for personal consumption). On January 2, 2010, Fatullayev was transferred to the Baku Investigative Prison No. 2. At this writing, the pretrial investigation is nearly complete and the case will be submitted to the court imminently. We are aware that Fatullayev is challenging the charges on grounds that they have been fabricated.
We believe these charges are part of a broader effort to persecute Fatullayev because of his status as an outspoken critic of the government and to exact retribution for his efforts to pursue justice before the European Court of Human Rights.
Fatullayev has a history of persecution in Azerbaijan, including threats, attacks, and prosecution for his writings. In July 2004, he was severely beaten on a street in Baku allegedly for his articles criticizing the government. In August 2006, the minister of interior brought three defamation suits against him, and one month later a court handed him a suspended two-year sentence and a fine of the equivalent of more than US$ 10,000.
In October 2006, Fatullayev was forced to briefly suspend publication of both Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realny Azerbaijan, after his father was kidnapped. The kidnappers threatened to kill him and his father if Fatullayev continued to publish the papers. The publications were renewed shortly after his father's release.
In March 2007, after publishing an article accusing the authorities of obstructing the investigation into the murder of Elmar Huseinov, editor of the journal Monitor, Fatullayev reported death threats against him and his family. The authorities refused to investigate the threats or offer to protect Fatullayev.
In April 2007, Fatullayev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for libel in connection with controversial online comments regarding the 1992 Khojaly massacre that were attributed to him. Fatullayev denies that he posted the comments.
Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, both of which had wide circulations, were effectively closed in May 2007, after staff of the Minister of Emergencies and the Minister of National Security raided their offices, ordered their staff to leave and then confiscated office equipment and hard drives, and sealed the editor's office shut.
In October 2007, Fatullayev was sentenced to eight-and-half years in prison for fomenting terrorism and other dubious criminal charges. The charges derived from an article Fatullayev had written for Realny Azerbaijan that criticized Azerbaijan's foreign policy. The article was legitimate political commentary that should be considered speech fully protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The new charges against Fatullayev follow this pattern of persecution. We believe they may constitute an attempt to punish him for lodging a complaint against Azerbaijan with the European Court of Human Rights, and intimidate him into withdrawing the complaint, therefore giving up protections provided under the European Convention on Human Rights.
This is supported in part by the timing of the charges. Fatullayev's complaint against Azerbaijan is expected to be heard in the coming months. On December 21, 2009, eight days before the narcotics charges were brought, a news website Mediaforum.az, published an article called "Fatullayev's Version," which discusses the pending Court judgment. Fatullayev himself has also spoken of the case repeatedly through his visiting family members in prison.
We urge you to use your authority to ensure that an independent investigation into the recent charges is conducted, and ensure that Fatullayev is not prevented from exercising his right under Article 34 of the European Convention to bring a case to the Court.
We also ask you to inform us of the progress of the case.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Europe and Central Asia division
Human Rights Watch
Cc: Minister of Justice, Republic of Azerbaijan